News and Views on Tibet

Opinion: Phunchok Stobdan is a Fake Expert on Himalayan Geopolitics. 

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P Stobtan at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (photo courtesy Facebook)
P Stobtan at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (photo courtesy Facebook)

By Darig Thokmay

Phunchok Stobdan, a former Indian ambassador based in Delhi, has accused the Dalai Lama of keeping silent on the Sino-Indian border dispute in Ladakh and speculated that he may be in collaboration with Communist China during an Aaj Tak TV interview on May 29. The allegation immediately sparked a public protest in Ladakh and Buddhist communities elsewhere. In the same interview, he also bashed the President of the Tibetan government in exile for provoking China by attending a Tibetan flag-raising ceremony in Ladakh, which the President never did.

This is a classic example of populist politicians appearing on TV channels or Social media nowadays to dramatically exaggerate sensitive issues with inaccurate and nationalistic mudslinging based on fear mongering and fabricated deception to serve self-interest. Do not get me wrong; if one has a coherent and sensible argument, of course, this is a free and democratic country.

Phunchok was, however, forced to apologise for what he has done. He suddenly softened his tone and said it was not meant to hurt anybody, including the Dalai Lama, and he excused that his baseless comments were due to his limited Hindi language vocabulary. Does this sound convincing? For the last more than 20 years of his political and diplomatic career, he published over a hundred articles and offensively, over and over again, blamed the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan refugees for disturbing Sino-Indian diplomacy and the peace and stability of the Himalayan regions. He intentionally fabricates conspiracy theories to disturb the harmony of Himalayan communities.

Relying on the Global Times, the mouthpiece of Chinese communist party, Phunchok even accused the Dalai Lama of receiving funding from China’s communist party officials and of shrewdly playing the Tawang card between China and India. Obviously, Phunchok did not want to talk about the fact that the Dalai Lama visited Tawang eight times to serve Indian political strategy. The Tibetan government in exile and the Dalai Lama publicly supported McMahon line and India’s claim over Arunachal Pradesh.

Truth be told, this is still only the tip of the iceberg of Phunchok ‘s hatred toward the Dalai Lama and Tibetan refugees in India. He compiled his revised old articles and converted them into a book with 16 chapters under the title of “The Great Game in the Buddhist Himalayas: India and China’s Quest for Strategic Dominance”. Like any other arrogant and ignorant politicians, he blindly blabbers throughout the book to forge a conspiracy theory on treacherous information to against Tibetans. For instance, Phunchok writes that Tibetan schools in India are teaching Tibetan history rather than emphasising on Indian history and literature.

Yes, of course, Tibetan schools do teach Tibetan history that is the primary purpose of setting up separate Tibetan schools on the mutual agreement of both the Dalai Lama and Jawaharlal Nehru. At the same time, Tibetan schools cover all the CBSE syllabuses and Tibetan students sit for CBSE examinations shoulder to shoulder with Indian students. How can one make such impulsive and unattested allegations?

Let’s forget to analyse his whole book, the first chapter, “A Profile of Himalayan Buddhism” was overloaded with more than 50 basic factual errors that even a high school student can easily spot out. I am talking about the fundamental factual errors, not his distorted descriptions of Tibetan Buddhist schools and their linages because the mistakes are beyond the correctability. He, however, proudly claims for himself the title of a well-known international strategic expert of Himalayan border issues. Thus, at least, we should expect that he knows very basic historical backgrounds of the Himalayan culture and religion.

Have a look at some direct quoted examples from the first chapter of his book. Regarding the origin of Sakya tradition in Himalayan regions, Phunchok writes, “After Sakya Pandita died in 1251, his son Dogon Chogyal Phagpa became the overlord of Tibet. In 1253, Kublai Khan invited Sakya Pandita’s nephew to become the religious patron of the Yuan Dynasty.” Mr expert event do not know that Sakya Pandita was a monk, and Phagpa was his nephew, not son, who was invited to become a religious priest, not a patron of the Yuan Dynasty.

Phunchok again says, “Lhazang was the grandson of Gushi Khan who had given the title of ‘Dalai’ to the Fifth Dalai Lama in 1641.” Excuse me. “Dalai Lama” is the incarnation title firstly received to the Third Dalai Lama from Altan Khan in 1578. Mr expert writes: “In 1686, Qusot Lhazang Khan found a monk from Kham, Ngawang Yeshe Gyatso, to be anointed as the ‘true’ Sixth Dalai Lama.” Really? This event was occurred in 1706, not in 1686.

Again, he narrates: “The news immediately emerged that the Sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso, had escaped from Lhazang Khan’s custody and had been living in Lithang in Kham.” The news that emerged was the birth of the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation in Lithang in 1708, not Tsangyang’s escape. Indeed, Tsangyang Gyatso died en route to Peking in 1706, how could he have escaped to Lithang in 1708?

I can go on and on, but one might argue here that although Phunchok does not know the history of Tibet, he is an expert on Ladakh. That is right. Then, let us see his narratives of Ladakhi history.

To explain the origin of Ladakh dynasty, Phunchok writes, “Nyimagon settled in maryul (the original name of Ladakh) and married the daughter of a local chieftain of the Thi Dynasty, Tashitsen.” None of the primary materials has this narrative at all. Nyimagon was a Tibetan prince who fled to Ladakh and married two daughters of his two ministers Nyang Patsab and Jokro Lekdra, both of whom escaped with him. The latter gave birth to three sons.

Again, regarding the Tibet-Ladakh war in the 1670s, he claims that the “goal was to bring all Himalayan states into the Gelugpa fold.” This is the backbone of Phunchok ‘s lifetime argument; but none of the first-hand materials support his assertion. Tibet launched a war against Ladakh for two reasons: Ladakh invaded a vast territory of upper Tibet while Tibet was plunged in a civil war. Secondly, the people from Guge repeatedly requested Lhasa to do it.

Phunchok again writes, “It is said that the Ladakh–Bhutan axis prompted the Fifth Dalai Lama to once again stage a brutal attack on Ladakh in 1684 with the help of reinforcement from the Zungar Mongols. By then, the Mughals withdrew support to the Ladakh king after being paid off by the Fifth Dalai Lama.” Here, he attached two events to the Fifth Dalai Lama, but the fact is the Fifth Dalai Lama had died in 1682, two years before this event.

I do not want bother to go on to correct his whole book; it makes me feel as if I am a primary school teacher checking a students’ history homework. I also do not want to waste my time to analyse his other arguments, because this whole ignorant conspiracy theory has been built on these false histories and self-fabrication. I cannot imagine how he dared to still call himself an expert with more than 30 years of knowledge.

If one has time to browse through his bibliography of the book, most of his trusted sources are China daily, Global Times, Xinhua News and China-Tibet News, among others. He is still accusing others of having Chinese influence.  Moreover, I cannot believe that Vintage and Penguin Random House, has published such a trashy work without checking the very basic factual errors.

The lifetime efforts of Phunchok Stobdab is to rent the popularity of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan refugees in India has, in fact, nothing to do with Indian geopolitical strategy and Sino-Indian border stability whatsoever. Reading his articles, we can clearly see that Phunchok has still been stuck in the 18th century with a tremendous historical hatred toward Tibetans, especially the Gelug pa school that began to spread in the Himalayan regions through Gaden Phodrang government. He himself admitted that he absolutely dislikes the fact that Gelugpa is becoming popular in Himalayan regions through the Dalai Lama and other Gelugpa refugee Lamas and blames that Gelugpa is the source of instability in Himalayan regions. Does it really sound like a strategist expert? I think it is absolutely ridiculous.

Phunchok ‘s accusations against Tibetan Buddhist schools are, of course, selective and purposely crafted based on his hidden agenda. For a person claiming expertise as a political strategist, to play with religious sentiments for one’s own religious priority is very destructive. If there are some threats to the peace and stability of Himalayan regions, it is his kind of false statements and conspiracy theories which could become the underlying cause. Phunchok ‘s recent offensive political comedy show on Aaj Tak TV is a living example of this.



(Views expressed here are his own)

The author is a PhD scholar in Oriental Studies at Oxford University and also works as an assistant researcher at Oxford Socio-legal Studies and the Faculty of Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics. Thokmay writes for both academic and general audiences on various topics. His works have appeared on Asia Times, Times of India, Asian Affairs and The Telegraphy, among others.


10 Responses

  1. “In the same interview, he also bashed the President of the Tibetan government in exile for provoking China by attending a Tibetan flag-raising ceremony in Ladakh, which the President never did.”

    I think the President did attend an unfurling of the Tibetan flag at Pang Gong lake in Ladakh…. there are numerous videos, pictures and articles touching this subject.

  2. P. Stobdan always has had vested interest in presenting Tibet in very poor light in all his writings. He began his career as a researcher in Indian defence and foreign policy matters by floating the theory that small countries in India’s neighbourhood can be nuisance to India. His classic example in trying to prove this point is Tibet- how Tibet, in the wake of India’s independence, asked Govt. of India to return Tibetan territories usurped by India. Someone calling himself an expert in geopolitics involving India holding a grudge against Tibet for this is a foolish act of sulking. He is putting down Tibet and Tibetans whenever he gets a chance.

    Motivated by a desire to hurt Tibetans more, he grabbed the opportunity of appearing in that Aaj Tak debate to give vent to his long pent up antipathy to Tibet. He chose to come up with this wild conjecture of the Dalai Lama causing the border military confrontation between India and China in collusion with China. What a mere far fetched product of imagination so unbecoming of someone who likes to self-promote himself as an expert in this field! What he ended up doing was putting his prestige in jeopardy.

    Darig Thokmay’s article is expected to revise P. Stobdan’s admirers’ respect to him. What his criticism of the Dalai Lama has achieved for him is wider awareness among the Tibetan people of his very personal dislike for Tibet.

  3. Dear Darig Thokmey la,
    Thank you for the timely & scholarly respond to Mr. P Stobden, former Indian Diplomat & a self claimed expert in Geopolitics! He & the likes of him, who undermines the intellectual caliber of Tibetans in exile which has boost their confidence to write articles & book that are full of factual distortion purposely done to appease PRC by aligning their writings with the narratives of PRC. Yes, this piece of writing itself is a clear & bold message to all those so called scholars who write their research articles based on the distorted narratives of PRC that Tibetans won’t accept it lying down nor stay silent about it. It is a warning to all publishers not to publish such books unless you speak the same language as PRC against Tibet & professors who are in the board of panelist to interview the PhD students defending their doctoral thesis to check the source of their bibliography! If it is mostly based on reference to books or articles published by PRC…you need to think twice before passing the thesis as standard research thesis.
    The modern education system has a new challenge specially at Higher Education. As we here that PRC invests a big chunk of their budget in nurturing scholars to write & publish articles & books on Tibet according to their narratives which is distorting the Tibet’s historical facts. P Stobden’s articles & the book raises lot of doubts & questions!
    A young scholar in the making has very meticulously & maturely responded to the deliberate distortion of historical events & time lines in P Stobden’s book! What can be more commendable than this!
    I am very PROUD of you & happy to be part of your journey in India as a student. I saw this potential in YOU the first time you came into my office & since then you worked with commitment, dedication & focus to reach this far.
    You have made your parents back in Tibet, the 6 million Tibetan and Tibetans in diaspora proud & you are close to fulfilling the hopes of HH the XIV Dalai Lana from Tibetan youths of seeing Tibetan professors at different Universities! That day is not far when you will be a Professor in one of the top Universities.
    I wish you good luck & looking forward to your becoming a professor in the near future. Good luck & my prayers are always with you in your successful doctoral studies at Oxford University, England UK!
    I usually don’t write comments but your commendable work deserve acknowledgement that inspired men to jot few lines for you.

  4. The way P Stobdan bad-mouthed HH The Dalai Lama on TV, there is no trace of any stature as a diplomat. But that is not surprising because P Stobdan is not a real foreign office diplomat. Most governments post non-foreign office staffs at their foreign missions (Embassies, consulates) from time to time to meet specific needs of that particular time. He got one of those ticket to be ambassador in Kyrgyzstan for 2 years (2010-2012) just before retirement. People who work at embassies/consulates on such short tickets go back to their respective organizations after the short stint and don’t continue calling themselves “diplomats”
    But ever since the one-time post as an ambassador, P Stobdan permanently labelled himself a “diplomat”.

    My husband and I noticed P Stobdan’s hatred towards Tibetans when he was studying in Mongolia at State University of Mongolia from 1987 to 1989. He doesn’t like making his study in Mongolia public. He maybe afraid that his clout as “expert” will fall apart if the world knows that his academic roots are from a university in a Soviet bloc country during the communist era.

    The article “Opinion: Phunchok Stobdan is a Fake Expert on Himalayan Geopolitics“ by PhD scholar at Oxford University- Darig Thokmey helps shed light on Stobdan’s hatred of Tibetans, namely that P Stobdan is still living in the 18th century and has immense hatred towards Gelukpa. The article also shows that P.Stobdan’s articles and books are full of factual errors.

    The way he bad-mouthed Kundun on TV, and all the factual errors in his writings show that he is neither a diplomat nor an “expert” in anything.

    A person who claims to be an expert on geopolitical issues should not let his obsession cloud his analysis if he wants to be taken as a serious academic.

  5. “Ladakh invaded a vast territory of upper Tibet while Tibet was plunged in a civil war. Secondly, the people from Guge repeatedly requested Lhasa to do it.” This is the reference why Ngari Association in India attempted to revive Dharchen festival in various Tibetan settlements in India to remember the victory of Tibet’s war against Ladakh and celebrates inclusion of Ngaripas into the jurisdiction of Gadhen Phodrung with great rejoice of leaving oppressive Ladakh dynasty behind. However, in the year 1986 when first time some elite Ngaipas attempted to organise the revival of Dharchen festival to pay tribute to Gadhan Phodrung at Sonam Ling, Leh faced lots of criticism from local bazzarie politicians who could instigate innocent people that this would dismantle unity among Tibetans. Eventually, many U. Tsang elites were against Darchen festival in various Tibetan settlements and influence has reached even up to Toronto where TCCC President did not allow Toronto Chapter Ngari Association to celebrate Darchen festival on the foot of Gangchen Chodhenling. However, Toronto Karma Sonam Dhargyling monastery abbot very graciously allow to organise festival at his monastery in the year 2007. Since then Ngaripas celebrates this historical event in Karma Sonam Dhargye Ling monastery every year. We can not forget kindness of the monastery because it valued our feeling and deepest honour to Gadhen Phodrung.

  6. Thank you Mr. Darig Thokmay for your extremely thoughtful and reasonable correction of facts that P Stobdan has intentionally written in his book to cater to Chinese interest or unintentionally did it due to his lack of knowledge and expertise on the subject.
    Either way, you shredded his trashy book to not just make it unworthy of reading but also awaken those people who has fallen victim to his faulty misinformation of Tibetan as well as Ladakhi history.

  7. What a succinct, factual, logical, and eloquent rebuttal to this fear mongering, denigrating, and pseudo-expert showman’s ridiculous statement. Thanks for showing up. Tse-ring, Kha-dro.

  8. Tibetans living in exile in India have a different set of issues from Tibetan living in the 3 regions of historical Tibet. In some sense, it’s not that different from the Jewish diaspora following the Holocaust and issues for Jewish people in the US (with a large number of diaspora) versus those in Israel. In such cases, religion has been wielded as a source of control although in actuality, religion has very little to do with the issues at hand but is an easy scapegoat to use to divert attention from the pressing issues. Who gains from causing unrest? And what do they achieve by doing so? Ask pertinent questions and perhaps the smoke clouding judgement clears a bit? The geopolitical game between India and China based on ideology has very much accelerated in the 20th century and is taking another turn now. They do say history repeats itself. If humans are unable to learn from the past, perhaps there is a reason?

  9. The author has pointed out the misinterpretations of Tibetan and the Himalayan regions by P. Stobdan giving credible allusions to historical documents. Mr. Stobdan has regarded proving Tibet and Tibetans as a threat to India’s security as his lifetime’s academic goal. What poor understanding of the reality of geopolitics involving China, India and Tibet. A Ladakhi scholar is expected to know more about the true history of old Tibet and Ladakh. Instead, he has chosen to exhibit patriotic feelings for India by presenting the Dalai Lama and the Tibetans in a very poor light. Darig Thokmay la has put his scholarship to the right use here by pointing out all the glaring errors in Mr. Stobdan’s interpretation of the history of the Himalayan regions. He is prompted by his dislike for Tibet to build up his theory of a small exile community’s threat to India.

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